Looking to 1994: 'Let's Talk About Politics'

PETER A. JAY

July 05, 1992|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- The two-and-a-half-year-old son of Baltimore friends of mine has learned to sit quietly in adult company and wait for a break in the conversation. Then he says, brightly, "Let's talk about politics." It always gets a laugh.

Young Daniel, who is obviously destined for a successful career in talk radio, is perfectly well qualified to do what he suggests. He knows the names of the president, the governor, and the mayor. That's fine for starters, and by the time he's four he'll probably be one of the six people in Baltimore who can name all the members of the city council.

The trouble is, though, that most reasonable folks don't want to talk about politics right now, even with a perceptive pre-kindergarten analyst. It's too early to pay serious attention to the presidential election, which is still four months away, and the 1994 state elections might as well be in the next century.

But some of us are incorrigible, So, Daniel, let's talk about politics. Here are some conversation-starters.

* Ben's Boosters.

Just about every time I've found myself in the company of political people lately, someone has taken me aside and whispered: "You know who ought to be the next governor? Ben Cardin!"

Congressman Cardin is an intelligent fellow with a presumably secure Baltimore district, no tarnish from the House check-kiting affair or other scandals, and about as much charisma as Eli Jacobs. Like Marvin Mandel, he is a former Speaker of the House of Delegates and a specialist in insider politics.

But just as Speakers of the House of Representatives don't get elected president, former Speakers of the House of Delegates generally don't get elected governor of Maryland. Only two have done so, Francis Thomas of Frederick in 1842 and Mr. Mandel -- and Mr. Mandel doesn't count.

Mr. Mandel was initially elected governor by the legislature to fill a vacancy, then re-elected twice. Running for re-election as an incumbent governor is a very different process from seeking the office for the first time. Re-election campaigns lend themselves to insider politics; it's easy to imagine Mr. Cardin running a successful campaign for a second term, but hard to see how he could ever win the first one.

Whatever the discouraging historical precedent, Mr. Cardin would pretty clearly like to be governor and is not unaware of the whispering campaign going on in his behalf. But he also likes his congressional seat, and it's hard to imagine him giving it up unless the path to the governorship is wide open and well greased. That's not going to happen.

* Mickey's Maneuvers.

No former Maryland lieutenant governor has ever been elected governor, but as there have only been five of them in the state's long history, that's no big deal. It certainly hasn't dampened the ambitions of the incumbent, Mickey Steinberg.

The best thing Mr. Steinberg has going for him is the incontrovertible fact that he is not William Donald Schaefer, who got him his present job but whose popularity is now on the skids. Mr. Steinberg, forced by Mr. Schaefer to choose between loyalty and expediency, has picked the latter and emphasized his DTC independence. Thus far it has worked to his benefit, and the madder the voters get at Governor Schaefer the better off Mr. Steinberg appears to be.

Whether Mr. Steinberg's strategy succeeds over the long haul remains to be seen. But it will take some demanding political gymnastics for him to run for governor expressing his opposition to everything about the Schaefer administration that angers voters, while simultaneously explaining what he was doing during the eight years he was a part of it.

* Democratic Daydreamers.

Other Democrats besides Mr. Cardin and Mr. Steinberg have their eyes on the 1994 gubernatorial nomination. Some of these ambitions are publicly obvious, and some aren't.

Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening would like to be governor, but his big home jurisdiction, with all its votes and all its problems, is a politically-incorrect address. He has run the peculiar place as well or better than most of his recent predecessors, but across the state it simply isn't P.C. to be from P.G.

Most state attorneys general would like to be governor, and probably the quiet and modest Joe Curran is no exception. Like Congressman Cardin, Attorney General Curran could be expected to do a better-than-average job if he were elected. Without Mr. Cardin's Washington baggage or Mr. Steinberg's Schaefer-administration ties, he would probably prove a stronger candidate than either if he could win the Democratic nomination. But that's an if of formidable size.

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